Will we survive the 21st century? Hard to say. If AI doesn’t take over all our jobs, maybe the atmosphere will choke us to death. On the other hand, we managed to survive the 20th century, didn’t we?
In spite of the dire reading on the Doomsday Clock, we have managed to avoid a nuclear holocaust. The jury is still out on ecological catastrophe. And yet, as Steven Pinker documented in his Enlightenment Now, the lives of average people have improved over the centuries.
Peter Frase, in his book published by Verso Press, neatly summarizes four possibilities for the 21st century:
If we are lucky, we might achieve Eden. If not, a benevolent variety of socialism may prevail. Elysium is the nightmare scenario. In my humble opinion, we are already in a rentism regime, moving inexorably toward “Elysium.”
All we need to do is look at the real beneficiaries of the Covid-19 crisis to understand that we are drifting steadily toward the bottom right corner of the chart. Common Dreams reported in late May that: “In the first 23 days after the initial lockdowns began, America’s billionaire class raked in over $282 billion in personal wealth, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.” For most of my life I accepted inequality as price we pay for a society that rewards innovation and effort. I have come to realize that the current extremes of wealth inequality have created an aristocracy that dictates policy. Plutocracy. Peter Frase sums up the consequences in his book:
To the extent that the rich are able to maintain their power, we will live in a world where they enjoy the benefits of automated production, while the rest of us pay the costs of ecological destruction–if we can survive at all. To the extent that we can move toward a greater equality, then the future will be characterized by some combination of shared sacrifice and shared prosperity, depending on where we are on the other, ecological dimension.Peter Frase, Four Futures, page 29
Can we work within the system to make reforms that erode the power of the plutocrats? Andrew Yang’s UBI and the Green New Deal may be a start. If we look at history, we see that FDR’s New Deal was under assault by the end of WWII, courtesy of the newly installed Military-Industrial Complex. Organized labor sold its soul to have a seat at the table, only to be kicked aside by neoliberalism led by Reagan and Thatcher.
All I can say for certain is that the power elite will attempt to preserve itself by any means necessary.